After hearing the punch line of the joke, the teenager falls to the floor, almost as if actually punched. She remains there, completely unable to move. She hears her parents reassure her friends that they need not worry about her because she will be all right in a few minutes. She is embarrassed and frustrated as the episode continues, and her friends begin to leave. They bid her goodbye, but she is unable to respond. Although she cannot talk or move, she is otherwise in a state of high alertness, feeling, hearing and remembering everything that is going on around her. The episode lasts for five minutes, longer than her typical cataplexies--which often last only seconds--but shorter than her longest episode, which lasted 25 minutes. Then it ends, almost as abruptly as it began. She gets up from the floor, and her everyday life resumes.
Cataplexy, the loss of skeletal muscle tone without loss of consciousness, is one of the defining symptoms of a puzzling neurological disorder called narcolepsy. The cataplectic attacks of narcolepsy are frequently prompted by laughter; other times, embarrassment, social interactions with strangers, sudden anger, athletic exertion or sexual intercourse may trigger an episode.